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School Bus Seat Belts – Are They Compulsory?

Thursday June 14, 2018


To buckle or not to! These are the two sides of an argument whether seat belts in school buses should be made compulsory. While some of the strong advocators of the safety of school kids are in favor of seat belts in school buses, there are others who substantiate their argument that seat belts do not save the lives of kids onboard. They are just seen as unwarranted expenditure burning a hole in the pockets of school administration.

The school seat belt debate continues, with the primal focus on the student safety. Student safety is all about identifying potential risks coming from different corners. Most of the kids suffer injuries not while traveling in a school bus but at pickup and drop off points. It is hence the need of the hour to educate kids about various safety rules along with their strict adherence.

Along with highlighting the significance of reaching the pick-up point in advance, kids should be asked to exercise caution when they are getting on and off the school bus. Drivers, on the other hand should also be closely watched whether they are following the safety norms while driving. If such safety measures are followed both by drivers and students, the propensity of accidents caused to school students can be brought down significantly.

Why Don’t School Buses Have Seat Belts?

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To answer this question as to why school buses don’t have seat belts, you need to delve deep into the opinions expressed by school administrators who look seat belts as unnecessary devices. Below is the rundown of the various reasons given by them.

  • First and foremost, this section of school administrators thinks installation of seat belts as an unnecessary expenditure. Since schools often run on tight budgets, ordering and equipping seat belts to school buses will further fleece their finances.
  • If the safety of school kids is a point of concern, these administrators argue that most of the injuries or casualties occur when kids are either walking to the bus stop or away from their drop point to reach their homes.
  • School buses are built in such a way that they promote the safety of kids onboard at all times. They are heavy vehicles which come with strong shock absorbers which are capable of offering the much-needed cushioning effect to students during any eventuality. Hence the need for seat belts does not arise.
  • School bus seats are padded and hence well-designed to absorb the impact of a shock.
  • There aren’t any data points about the appropriate and regular use of seat belts in school buses.
  • There is no past data that highlights the significance of seat belts in bringing down injuries caused to school kids during travel in school buses.
  • Unruly kids can resort to violence using seat belts as their weapons. In the event of an improper use of seat belts, they can choke students.
  • There can be instances when seat belts are not used according to their prescribed instructions, causing injuries to kids onboard.
  • Research proved that lap belts can actually harm kids. In the event of a buckled seat belt, there can be increased chances of a head injury resulting from a head-on collision. Along with this, there are greater chances of getting student injured on his/her neck.
  • The money that is spent on seat belts can be diverted to the installation of other safety devices in school buses.
  • School buses normally follow the concept of “compartmentalization”. As per this design concept, seats are placed so very close to each other so that school kids experience minimum impact caused by a collision. So, the use of seat belts becomes redundant.
  • The interiors of school bus seats are made of energy-absorbing steel. Along with this, all the seats come with extra padding.
  • Another factor that makes seat belts in school buses impractical comes from the well-designed arrangement of seats. While all the seats are tightly fastened to the floor of the bus, seat-backs are raised so as to ensure extra security to students traveling in the school bus.

Is Seat Belt Necessary In School Buses?

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This question is looking for responses in favor of the installation of seat belts in school buses. Therefore, here we present all those arguments that strongly advocate the use of seat belts for multiple reasons.

  • Tagged as safety devices in school buses, seat belts are meant to ensure the safety of kids at all times. Just as you buckle up your car seat belts, school bus seat belts guard students against the sudden impact of a collision. Seat belts in school buses help to cut down the number of injuries and casualties concerning kids.
  • When school kids are secured with seat belts, they sit in their designated seats without distracting the driver by running around in a moving bus.
  • In the case of an accident, seat belts offer the best protection, securing the kids from either hitting against the front seat or rolling over to the next passenger on the seat.
  • Safety begins at school when school kids will learn to adhere to safety rules while riding and traveling. Here, seat belts emphasize the importance of good safety habits.
  • The use of three-point seat belts in school buses can double up the safety of kids. These seat belts which secure the lap of students run over their shoulders, safeguarding their sitting position in the event of a rollover accident.
  • Last but not the least, all those in favor of seat belts in school buses consider it as a worthwhile investment, keeping in mind the safety of kids onboard.

Is It Good For Student Safety In School Bus?

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Accidents do not happen every single day. These are rare instances that one should be prepared for, especially when it concerns the safety of young kids being transported to and from schools to their homes. School buses are the preferred means of transportation for most of the parents for simple reason that they ensure a great deal of student safety.

Statistics report that school buses are 16 times safer when compared to reaching school in a family vehicle. Under this section concerning student safety linked to seat belts, you will be able to come to a conclusive decision whether seat belts actually guarantee student security or not.

The following are the substantiating opinions about how seat belts in school buses do not guarantee or improve the safety of students.

  1. Safety Mechanisms Are Already in Place

Many districts in the United States employ close to 40 safety standards while designing and constructing school buses. These come in the form of superior and reliable brake systems, bright red indicator lights, cross-view mirrors for clear visibility, escape outlets to roofs, stop-sign arms and emergency exits.

If you look at the school bus seats, they come with high-quality padded seatbacks which absorb the impact of a crash. Sporting a bright yellow color which attracts the attention of both commuters and other vehicles on the road, school buses promise protective seating teamed with impact-resistant features. These seats also guarantee strong rollover protection systems.

  1. School Buses V/s Passenger Vehicles

Research reveals that your kids are 70 times safer while commuting via school buses when compared to traveling by car. The very fact that school buses are not built as if they are passenger, vehicles makes them the safest means of transporting kids to and fro to their schools.

The increased height and weight of school buses in addition to the length of school buses are the positive attributes that safeguard them against frequent crashes. Incorporating a body-on-frame design, modern school buses come fitted with anti-lock braking systems; a welcome step towards the safety of school kids.

  1. Injuries to Students Who Have Buckled Up or Not

If school buses install a combination of lap and shoulder belts, they would require stiff seats. Stiff seats can lead to injuries in the event students do not buckle up and a crash occurs. There can be instances of injuries caused to the abdomen when kids can slide down, hurting the organs below the abdomen of students who did not buckle up.

  1. The Legal Provisions

School buses are tagged as the most regulated vehicles on the road, not only on account of their unique designing but also for the fact that they have a strong legal protection. Law is always on the side of students who are either alighting or boarding a school bus, making it an offence for the driver to drive past a school bus which is picking or dropping students; in any direction.

  1. Practical Limitations

1. Given the crucial necessity of evacuating students during an emergency, seat belts are an evident hindrance. When all the kids are fastened to their seats, it becomes a herculean task to push them out of the school bus after a crash.

2. Another concern here is linked to the driver who has to ensure that all the 70 odd kids in his bus are fastened to their seats. There has to be another person who has to oversee all the students, adjust their seat belts and confirm that all of them are used properly.

3. Kids come with different constitutions. While some kids are bulky, there are others who are lean. Seat belts should be adjusted in line with the bodily requirements of smaller and larger kids.

  1. The Exception of Small School Buses

While all the above arguments do not favor equipping school buses with seat belts, there is one exception with regard to small school buses which weigh 10,000 pounds or less. It is for such school buses that lap or shoulder belts should be fitted with seat belts since they weigh closer to what passenger trucks and cars weigh.

Hence, in order to ensure the safety of students traveling via smaller school buses, it makes sense to fit them with seat belts so as to offer superior protection to all those who are onboard.

Advantages and Disadvantages of School Bus Seat Belts

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In an attempt to weigh the pros and cons of equipping school buses with seat belts, you may visualize the below scenarios which are likely to occur on a fateful day.

An Example

Firstly, you can imagine the instance of a crash involving a school bus that had seat belts installed. In such a school bus, it is a common phenomenon to find most of the students strapped to their seats with an exception of some who haven’t. The bus meets with an accident. Upon the strong impact coming from a head-on collision, all the students who weren’t strapped will slam into the students who have buckled up.

Such an impact will not only force the strapped students to bear their own weight but also to counter the additional weight coming from the students who have fallen on them; those who didn’t fasten their seat belts. Isn’t it a possibility for belted students to experience a doubling crash impact? Indeed, it is! Such an occurrence can invariably cause serious injuries to students.

Some Advantages

  • When school buses have students fastened to their seats, they will behave themselves well, without running about in a moving bus. This behavior is welcomed by drivers who need not oversee what the kids are up to, allowing them to better concentrate on the road traffic.
  • Buckling up is a good habit that goes a long way in ensuring safety. Students will be prompted to fasten their seat belts even when they are traveling in a passenger car or family vehicle.
  • The installation of seat belts comes with a nominal price tag; less than $2.00 per child. This is a very small cost component when you consider the big picture of student safety.
  • You can free yourself from legal battles if your school bus is equipped with seat belts.

The Evident Disadvantages

  • School buses are known for their stringent safety standards. In such cases, the use of seat belts becomes redundant.
  • In rarest of rare cases when a school bus has to brave natural catastrophes like flash floods or earthquakes, buckled up students cannot be saved.
  • Most of the school bus crashes occur either when kids are getting in or getting out of their school buses. So the necessity of seat belts as safety device is strongly disputed.
  • Given the cost of installing seat belts per child is comparatively low, you will have to invest huge amounts of money when you have to look into the safety measures of multiple buses which are answerable for the safety of thousands of school kids.
  • The installation of seat belts in school buses can burn a hole in the pockets of schools with a large fleet.
  • Belted students cannot be brought to safety in the event of a fire. A scenario in which the school bus is sinking can be devastating, with the driver and most of the students who have buckled up, to drown. This can be a typical case of an adversity diminishing all the opportunities to save the lives of children onboard.
  • Fearful kids fastened to their seats cannot protect themselves by unbuckling the belts in the event of a crash.
  • Errant students can make use of seat belts as weapons during tiffs and fights.
  • There is no guarantee that seat belts are put to their designated use in all the school buses.
  • The installation of seat belts in school buses is not governed by federal laws.
  • Seat belts have no significant role to play in diminishing the impact of a crash.
  • Since all the school buses ply with a speed limit, there are fewer chances for accidents. Hence the need for seat belts does not arise.
  • School kids traveling in school buses are guaranteed with superior protection as they are positioned above the impact zone. Hence, in the event of a collision or crash, they are left unscratched.
  • The height and weight of a school bus is so designed to absorb all the impact that occurs during a crash. This is not the case with a normal family automobile or passenger vehicle. Hence the difference of opinion advocating the significance of seat belts in school buses always exists.

Delving deep into the above-mentioned pros and cons of the effectiveness of seat belts in school buses can help the concerned make a well-informed decision of whether to fit seat belts in school buses or not.

Seatbelts on School Buses: Statistics

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Described below is the statistical information that will serve as pivotal data points substantiating the effectiveness or the impracticality of seat belts in school buses.

  1. School buses are debatably the single most effective means of transportation for school children. Tagged as the safest means to ferry school kids to and fro to school, statistics reveal that 25 million children in the United States reach their classrooms without fastening their seat belts.
  2. The United States records only six states including Florida, Texas, Louisiana, New Jersey, California and New York which are governed by operational laws concerning seat belts on school buses.
  3. A meagre 20% of the USA’s 480,000 fleet of school buses are equipped with seat belts.
  4. NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), a US government agency cites that, on an average, five to six kids die in school bus accidents every year.
  5. The same NHTSA reported that 0.2 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles travelled occurred via school bus accidents.
  6. According to the research conducted by IMMI, an industry leader which manufactures seat belts for school buses, the installation of lap-shoulder seatbelts in school buses can bring down the injury and fatality rate by 50%.
  7. Between 2003 and 2012, the NHTSA recorded 174 cases of fatal casualties involving students during transportation.
  8. As per a news feed published by PBS, 301 children lost their lives to school bus crashes between 2006 and 2015; most of whom were pedestrians or those who traveled in other vehicles. Of these, about 54 were school bus passengers.

How Much Does It Cost To Install Seat Belts in a School Bus?

The debate revolving around the installation of seat belts in school buses does not seem to conclude, especially when you are informed of the fact that school buses are the safest means of transportation. Here, you will be informed about the costs that need to be incurred by school administrations operating a fleet of buses fitted with seat belts.

The Budget for Seat Belts in School Buses

According to a CNN health report published by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) in 2016, schools are required to set aside an average amount ranging between $7,346 and $10,296 for a large school bus to maintain its seat belts. That means, every big school bus fitted with seat belts will need to incur an average incremental cost anywhere between $7,000 and $11,000. However, this figure takes into consideration the initial installation costs of equipping a school bus with seat belts. Given that the life of a school bus spans 15 years, you can expect these operational costs to come down with every passing year.

Current Events Relating To School Bus Seat Belts

  1. A School Bus Ferrying Kids to a Field Trip Crashes into a Dump Truck in New Jersey

As recent as 18th May 2018, a news feed reported by CNN described a horrific school bus accident. This incident fueled the argument whether school buses should come up with a mandate for seat belts.

The tragedy occurred when a school bus ferrying kids to a field trip in Morris County, New Jersey collided with a dump truck and tilted to one side, on 17th May 2018. The impact of the collision proved fatal for one kid and an adult, in addition to injuring 43 people. News states that some of the seriously injured passengers might need surgeries to recover. This recent incident brought to light the effectiveness of seat belts in saving the lives of school kids.

Since seat belts belong to the jurisdiction of individual states, it was time for New Jersey to come up with laws concerning seat belts. In the wake of this tragedy, New Jersey’s law would make it mandatory for school buses to be fitted with three-point seat belts on high back seats.

In an attempt to ensure the safety of all kids playing on the roads of New Jersey, the state may direct school districts to ply new buses fitted with three-point seat belts. The three-point seat belts will thus come as the perfect option to ensure the safety of students patronizing school buses in New Jersey.

  1. A School Bus Crash in Tennessee on 23rd November 2016 Claims the Lives of 5 Children

Worried parents expressed their anguish over a school bus accident that took place in Chattanooga, Tennessee on 23rd November 2016. The accident, which claimed the lives of 5 school children and injuring 31 raised queries whether school buses should still be considered as the safest means of transport on American roads.

The CBS news reporter covering this accident shed light on the arguments revolving around the significance of seat belts that are essential for bulky school buses as well.

Over-speeding on driver’s part was the main reason behind this mishap. It was also learnt that the driver was speaking to his colleague over his mobile, while he was at the wheel. The distraction caused by the conversation coupled with over-speeding led the bus to a crash along a narrow and steep road; tilting it to one side.

The school bus did not have seat belts creating enough room for the million dollar argument to come up. It was time for the advocators in favor of seat belts in school buses to press the need for seat belts. As a strong retort, the arguments against the use of seat belts also came up. They quoted the increase in operational expenditure to install seat belts coupled with the stringent design standards that are followed by school bus builders.

These arguments were further strengthened by the opinions of drivers who felt that seat belts could come in the way of evacuating kids in the event of an emergency like fire or drowning.


With innumerable arguments in favor of and against the installation of school bus seat belts, it is for you to decide which way to go so as to ensure the safety of school students. Whether school administrators would choose to boost up other safety measures or would go ahead and install seat belts, it is only to ensure that every kid reaches his/her home safe from school.

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